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  • Introduction to Forum:The Logics of Gender Justice: State Action on Women's Rights Around the World
  • Shirin M. Rai

When and why do governments promote women's rights? This is the question that animates The Logics of Gender Justice: State Action on Women's Rights Around the World (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press) by Mala Htun and Laurel Weldon. The book is the Winner of the Best Book Award for 2019 in ISA's Human Rights Section. It is a comparative analysis of state action to promote women's rights in seventy countries from 1975 to 2005; through mapping different histories, conflicts, and struggles for rights, it identifies sources of change. The authors identify a range of issues faced by women globally—violence against women and workplace equality, family law, abortion, and contraception and religion and its manifestations in everyday life. State policies to address these issues require different types of policies and strategies: a logic of status politics, which leads feminist movements to leverage international norms to contest women's subordination; a logic of doctrinal politics, which turns on relations between religious groups and the state; and a logic of class politics, which is reflected in the strength of Left parties in individual countries. Through a quantitative and qualitative analysis of a huge amount of data, the book shows how gender justice strategies need multiple and complex pathways and an alliance of policy makers, advocates, and others seeking to advance women's rights.

The book is an important intervention in the feminist debates on engaging the state, which has a long and often troubled history within women's movements and continues to preoccupy feminist thinking (see e.g., Halley et al. 2018 on "governance feminism"); it is also an intervention in human rights debates—another fiercely contested area of discourse and policy; and an [End Page 501] intervention in citizenship studies—for example, the gap between international norms, discourses, and conventions in terms of universality and nation-state-based citizenship that remains focused on immediate political concerns to delimit citizenship rights (see e.g., the current debates on the National Register of Citizens in India). While making these interventions the authors do not forget to remind the readers that historical and social context matters, even as their analysis suggests that we might learn from the global trends in policy making and shifts resulting in improvement in women's rights. Given this ambition, the authors develop "a typology of state action on women's rights," measures to assess the range and depth of change, based on an impressive dataset that will going forward help feminist scholars and policy makers to understand and map how policy shifts take place, what obstacles they face, and what might be done to overcome this. This is no mean feat, and the Social Politics editors feel that the book deserves further exploration in a Forum to discuss these issues further.

Our four contributors to the Forum are all impressed with the book—its range, scope, and ambition. But, as befits serious scholars, they also raise some issues for Hutn and Weldon that we are sure the authors will find fair, thoughtful, and which they will wish to engage with as will scholars who use this excellent book as a jumping-off point for further research. We hope this Forum will generate an international conversation among our readers—state policy is of course a critically important issue for Social Politics and the global scope of this book makes it imperative that perspectives from different parts of the world and different political positions engage the important messages of this book in future work. [End Page 502]

Shirin M. Rai
Department of Politics and International Studies, Social Sciences Building, The University of Warwick, Coventry CV4 7AL, UK


Halley, Janet, Prabha Kotiswaran, Rachel Rebouché, and Hila, Shamir. 2018. Governance Feminism: An Introduction. Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press.


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pp. 501-502
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